Thursday, July 26, 2007

When Mayberry Goes Gangsta

When Mayberry Goes Gangsta:
Justice Southern Style

Min. Paul Scott

Don't trust your soul to no back street southern lawyer
Cause the judge in town's got blood stains on his hands

The Night that the Lights Went Out in Georgia-Viki Lawrence

Summer time in Mayberry. Usually you can find Sherif Andy and Deputy Barney unarmed in the jailhouse playin' cards and just chillin'. Meanwhile, Aunt B and Opie sit on the front porch sippin' home made lemonade. But that was before "they" rode into town. Now Andy and Barney wear bulletproof vests. Aunt B carries a 45 in her Sunday purse, locked and loaded. And Opie is now "O dog" Main St assassin...

When most folks think of North Carolina, they think of apple pie, warm summer nights and college basketball. But like most places, the Ole North State has its share of crime. Some folks will warn you that if you see a kid dressed from head to toe in Carolina blue, he probably doesn't play for the UNC Tarheels. Especially in my city, Durham, as for the past few years the so called gang problem has received national attention thanks to the media and documentaries.

Durham hasn't always had the reputation of being the New Jack City of the South. But a few years back the local media began to do cover stories with gangsta's throwin' up gang signs and well, the kids that weren't quite smart enough to get on the A honor roll or couldn't catch a pass for a hundred yards every Friday night found that one way to get noticed was to go to the Dollar store and get a bandana, white T shirt and mimic BET videos.

To add to that, as in many cities, there is also the practice of gentrification. For those not hip to the term. When you find a poor neighborhood, label it run down, drive the people out, sell property dirt cheap and then rebuild the area...That's gentrification.

What you have a self fulfilling prophecy..Tell the people they live in a "gang infested" area long enough and well...You know the rest.

So how do my southern friends and neighbors deal with the plague of gang violence?

Like folks in any other town below the Mason Dixon when they feel that their traditional way of life is threatened...

They panic.

For the past few years, some NC politicians have been trying to pass tougher legislation to deal with gang violence. In 2003, to capitalize off of post 9/11 paranoia they tried to pass a Street Gang and Terrorism Prevention Act but since public anxiety had begun to die down, it didn't work. In 2007, they are trying to sneak it under the public radar in the form of the Street Gang Prevention Act courtesy of House Bill 274 and Senate Bill 1358.

But the obvious question is, if it is such a darn good idea, then why hasn't it become law, yet?

Now, I like to take an afternoon walk to the mailbox without worrying about becoming the victim of a drive by as much as the next guy but using draconian methods to deter crime just doesn’t strike me right.

The main controversies surrounding the bills are how do you determine who is in a gang and is being in a gang illegal?

The intro to House Bill 274 says that:

"The General Assembly, however, further finds that the State of North Carolina is in a state of crisis that has been caused by violent street gangs whose members threaten, terrorize, and commit a multitude of crimes against the peaceful citizens of their neighborhoods. These activities, both individually and collectively, present a clear and present danger to public order and safety and are not constitutionally protected "

******Note to Gang members "clear and present danger" is the ultimate diss because once you get that label on you. You have no rights and mama can’t save you*******
According to the bill a "criminal street gang" is defined as:

"any ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, which engages in a pattern of criminal gang activity as defined in subdivision (2) of this section. The existence of the organization, association, or group of individuals associated in fact may be established by evidence of a common name or common identifying signs, symbols, tattoos, graffiti, or attire or other distinguishing characteristics"

Translation: Anyone who dresses like the rapper lil Wayne.

I think that it is safe to say that most middle class white folks don't know how it feels to be stereotyped. I still have a not so fond memory of while attending a summer high school honors program, standing at a bus stop dressed in my freshest 1984 Hip Hop gear only to have a Winston Salem bus driver decide that his half full vehicle suddenly ran out of room and slam the door in my face.

Also according to the bill "criminal street gang activity" is a:

"Pattern of criminal gang activity" means the commission, attempted commission, conspiracy to commit, or solicitation, coercion, or intimidation of another person to commit at least two of " a whole bunch of offences. "

I'm not quite sure how you enforce "attempt and conspiracy to commit a crime."
Maybe I should turn myself in now for that cup of coffee I was thinking about swiping from the counter at EZ Mart last week.

Lastly, the bill calls for the heavy prosecution of 12 year olds. I've met some rotten little brats in my day but I wouldn't really consider a 6th grader another Al Capone.

The companion bill Senate Bill 1358 is only slightly more politically correct.

Yes Virginia, there are real gangs in the Bull City and it is not a utopia. But Durham ain't Compton either with its generations of gangsterism. This isn’t an overly crowded city and the same kid who is P-Rock on Saturday night is Lil Pookie who sings in the youth choir on Sunday morning.

In other words..It aint' that deep.

We have not reached the point yet when we should consider performing social retro abortions on twelve year old kids.

Already they are developing projected budgets based on the new residents that will be headed to Hotel Hoodlum. The prison industry is big business and who am I to knock the hustle. So if your no good, lazy cousin in Alabama is looking for a good paying job, he might want to hop the next Greyhound to North Carolina.

The bottom line is in 2007, we should be able to come together and think of more innovative solutions to saving our children than the usual lock em up and throw away the key.

And that ain't just whistlin' Dixie...

Min. Paul Scott is a writer and activist based in Durham NC. His blog is
For reach him contact (919) 451-8283